Trooping the Colour is a military ceremony performed by regiments of the Commonwealth and the British Army. It has been a tradition of British infantry regiments for centuries and it was first performed during the reign of Charles II. Since 1805 the ceremony has been carried out on the British Sovereign's birthday, which, since King George VI, has been regularly held on a Saturday in June.
On battlefields, a regiment's colours, or flags, were used as rallying points. Consequently, regiments would have their ensigns slowly march with their colours between the soldiers' ranks so that they would recognise what their regiments' colours looked like.
The importance of the colours was not confined to control during battle. They represented a regiment's direct link and service to the sovereign, as well as to the fallen soldiers and officers of that regiment. Its loss, or the capture of an enemy colour, were respectively considered the greatest shame, or the greatest glory available on a battlefield. As such, regimental colours are venerated and paid the highest compliments by officers and soldiers of all ranks, second only to the sovereign.
Only battalions of infantry regiments of the line carry colours; the Royal Artillery's colours, for example, are their guns. Rifle regiments did not form a line and thus never carried colours. Their battle honours are carried on their drums. The exception to this is the Honourable Artillery Company who have both a stand of colours and guns.
Trooping the Colour is an old ceremony whereby the battalion would fall in by companies and the colour-party would "troop" or march the colours through the ranks so that every man would see that the colours were intact. This was done before and after every battle. This ceremony has been retained through time and is today largely ceremonial.
Trooping the Colour allows the Household Division (i.e., the Foot Guards and the Household Cavalry) and King's Troop to pay a personal tribute to the Sovereign with great pomp and pageantry. Crowds at Buckingham Palace, around the Victoria Memorial and lining The Mall listen to the military bands before and after the ceremony. Events at Buckingham Palace after the Queen's return include another march past, a 41-gun salute in the adjacent Green Park, and a flypast by the Royal Air Force. This is followed by the usual daily Changing of the Guard.
The Queen has attended Trooping the Colour in every year of her reign except when prevented by a rail strike in 1955, and survived the firing of six blank shots towards her in 1981. Her Majesty started riding in a carriage in 1987.
Her 80th birthday in 2006 was marked by a large flypast of 40 planes led by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and culminating with the Red Arrows. It was followed by the only feu de joie ("fire of joy") fired in her presence during her reign. In 2008, a flypast of 55 aircraft commemorated the RAF's 90th anniversary.
Each year in June, there are three Trooping the Colour Parades, with the first two effectively functioning as rehearsals for the Queen's Birthday Parade. The Major General's Review and the Colonel's Review are scheduled on the Saturdays two and one weeks preceding the Queen's Birthday Parade respectively. The Queen's Official Birthday also sees the announcement of the Birthday Honours List (one of the two Honours lists of the year, the other being the New Year's Honours List).
Nos 1-6 Guards - six companies of Foot Guards, comprising 70 men and 3 officers each - march on to the field perimeter. The Sovereign arrives and carries out Inspection of the Troops (to slow and quick march music).
The Massed Bands troop, marching and countermarching in slow and quick time.
A lone drummer breaks away and approaches no. 1 Guard. At Drummer's Call, no. 1 Guard - referred to as "Escort For the Colour" - marches to the centre to the tune British Grenadiers and obtains the colour from the Colour Party. Now known as "Escort to the Colour", no. 1 Guard position themselves by no. 6 Guard while the Massed Bands execute their legendary "spinwheel". The Escort then slowly troops their regimental colour down the lines of nos 6-2 Guards, finishing back in their original position on the right of the line.
Having re-formed into divisions, Guards 1-6 march around Horse Guards Parade in slow and quick time, to neutral and regimental marches (the latter used as they pass the Queen). Similarly, to music from the Mounted Bands, Household Cavalry and King's Troop pass the Queen in walk past and then sitting trot.
The Massed Bands play the Queen back to Buckingham Palace.
A detail of Guardsmen bearing marker flags marches onto the parade ground and marks the positions of nos 1-6 Guards. These marker flags are the respective company colours from each regiment.
The six Foot Guards companies march on to the perimeter of the field, led by their regimental bands. (They are referred to as No. 1 Guard, No. 2 Guard, etc.) Of these six Guards, it is No. 1 Guard whose colour will be trooped. Importantly, No. 1 Guard are known at this point as "Escort For the Colour."
Nos 1-5 Guards align in ranks of two on the west side of the parade ground facing Horse Guards Building; No. 6 Guard lines up perpendicular to them on the north side, thus making an "L" shape. The Massed Bands are on the east side. Adjacent to No. 6 Guard is the Colour Party (a Colour Sergeant holding the Colour which will be trooped, accompanied by two other guardsmen). The King's Troop, the Household Cavalry, and their Mounted Bands, form up behind Nos 1-5 Guards on the edge of St. James's Park.
Since the Foot Guards are in their full dress and the Mounted Bands in state dress uniform, the assembled ranks of Household Troops make a colourful spectacle.
Junior members of the Royal Family arrive in two barouche carriages. No. 3 Guard opens ranks to allow the carriages to pass. They enter Horse Guards Building, where they view the ceremony from a central first floor window in the Duke of Wellington's old office.
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh (Colonel of the Grenadier Guards) drive down The Mall in Queen Victoria's 1842 ivory-mounted phaeton drawn by two Windsor Grey horses. (The phaeton is on view at various times of the year in the Royal Mews.) The Sovereign's Escort consists of the Mounted Bands and the Household Cavalry. The Royal Procession includes the other Royal Colonels: the Prince of Wales (Welsh Guards), Duke of Kent (Scots Guards) and Princess Royal (Blues and Royals).
As the Royal Carriage arrives on Horse Guards Parade, the Royal Standard is released and flown from the roof of Horse Guards building. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh dismount at the Saluting Base and the Queen receives a Royal Salute.
When the carriage turns around the rear of No. 6 Guard, the music changes to a quick march. The carriage conveys the Queen back up the line so that she can observe the Household Cavalry and King's Troop lined up on the edge of St. James's Park.
BBC television commentaries every year emphasise the Queen's knowledge of the attributes of her Guards, and single out "steadiness" as a highly prized quality for a guardsman.
The marches played by the Massed Bands always carry a flavour of the regiment whose colour is being trooped in any given year and therefore lend the inspection a unique atmosphere. In 2007 the pieces were "Royal Procession" (Ellerby) and "No. 7 Company" (Jones).
On the Queen's return to the Saluting Base, the command "Troop!" is given. (This is not to be confused with the trooping of the colour, which occurs later in the ceremony.) The senior drum major orders the Massed Bands to march and countermarch the length of the parade ground in slow and quick time.
The slow march is traditionally a waltz from Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera, Les Huguenots. The band reaches the Colour Party and countermarches. The drum major calls a halt and then orders a quick march (in 2007, "Blue Red Blue" by Ellis), during which a lone drummer breaks away from the Massed Bands, marching to two paces to the right of No. 1 Guard.
Now the Trooping of the Colour phase starts. The lone drummer plays eight bars of a drum call, signalling the Captain of No. 1 Guard to cede his command to the Subaltern. No. 1 Guard then moves into close order in preparation for the march off.
An orderly takes the pace stick from the Regimental Sergeant-Major, who is standing at the rear of the Escort For the Colour. This allows the Sergeant-Major to draw his sword (the only time a British warrant officer ever does so on parade). Led by the Subaltern with the Ensign behind him, and the Regimental Sergeant-Major at the rear of the company, the Escort For the Colour quick marches towards the Colour Party, to the tune of "The British Grenadiers". Twenty steps away from the Colour Party, the music halts and four paces later, the 'Escort for the Colour' halts.
Followed by the ensign, the sergeant major marches towards the Colour Party. After saluting the colour with his sword, the sergeant-major takes it from the colour sergeant, who is then free to slope arms. The sergeant-major about-turns, marches to the Ensign, and presents the colour to him. The ensign salutes the colour with his sword, sheathes the sword without taking his eyes off the colour and takes possession of the colour. The Escort For the Colour now becomes the Escort To the Colour.
The Escort To the Colour presents arms and the four NCOs at either end of No. 1 Guard turn outward and port arms as symbolic maximum protection for the Colour. The Massed Bands play the first six bars of "God save the Queen".
The Escort To the Colour now slopes arms, as does the Colour Party (the colour sergeant and his two guardsmen). The colour sergeant takes position to the right and to the rear of the escort. The Colour Party, the ensign, and the sergeant-major march back to the escort; the sergeant-major takes position to the left and to the rear of the Escort.
The Escort To the Colour slow marches down towards no. 6 Guard to the position for starting the Trooping. During this, the Massed Bands perform a unique anti-clockwise "spinwheel" manoeuvre to reorient themselves in restricted space, while playing the slow march, "Escort To the Colour". Once the Escort is in place for the Trooping, the Field Officer in Brigade Waiting (a Lieutenant-Colonel) orders the entire parade (excepting the Escort) to present arms.
The Escort To the Colour then slowly troops the colour down the entire length of Nos 6-2 Guards, as the Massed Bands play "The Grenadiers' Slow March." The colour itself is borne in front of the Guards, but the ranks of the Escort interweave with their ranks. For Nos 6-2 Guards, who maintain the 'present arms' position, the long trooping, especially on a hot day, requires stamina. (When the colour passes the spectators, members of the British and foreign armed services, and military attaches of the Diplomatic Corps salute the colour, as is customary in the British Army.)
Eventually the Escort arrives back at its original position as no. 1 Guard - from where it first marched off in quick time. The Captain, who had temporarily ceded his command to the Subaltern, resumes his command over No. 1 Guard by ordering them to present arms, thus bringing the Escort back in line with Nos 2-6 Guards. The entire parade is now ordered by the Field Officer in Brigade Waiting to slope arms, thus bringing an end to the Trooping itself.
The leading group, behind the white horse, is No. 1 Guard ("Escort to the Colour"). They are followed by Nos 2-6 Guards in similar formation. The Field Officer in Brigade Waiting gives the command, "Officers, take post." Nos 1 to 5 Guard then "retire", about-turning and right-forming into review formation. Nos 1 to 5 Guard then about-turn again as the Corps of Drums play, as for example in 2007, "Hazlemere" (Birkett). (Since No. 6 Guard is standing at right angles to the other five companies it does not need to execute this movement. Also, as No. 6 Guard is always formed on the left of the line by the Coldstream Guards if present, by tradition they do not recognise the command to "retire".)
Once intervals are established, the Field Officer in Brigade Waiting salutes the Queen and informs her that the Foot Guards are ready to slow-march, then commands, "Guards will march past in slow and quick time!"
A neutral slow march (i.e. a march that is not affiliated to one of the Guards regiments), begins the slow circuit of Nos 1-6 Guards around Horse Guards Parade. In 2007, this was "Royal Heritage" (arr. Jones). The Guards are preceded by the Field Officer and his Second-in-Command, who salute the Queen with their swords and eyes right.
When each of Nos 1-6 Guards passes the Queen at the Saluting Base, the music changes to the appropriate Regimental Slow March. They shift to "eyes right" and their officers salute with swords. The leading company, No. 1 Guard - the Escort to the Colour - has a particular honour. The ensign lowers the colour - the 'flourish'. The Queen acknowledges it with a bow of the head, and the Royal Colonels salute the regiment. Once past the Saluting Base, the Colour is raised again - the 'recovery' - and an "eyes front" is ordered.
Passing the Queen, each company salutes and is acknowledged by the Queen and the Royal Colonels. Once No. 6 Guard has passed the Saluting Base, a neutral slow march concludes the slow march past. (In 2007, "Thieving Magpie/Dogies March" [arr Ridings]).
Nos 1-6 Guards now complete a circuit of Horse Guards Parade in quick time. This time the colour is at the rear of the Escort (No. 1 Guard), protected by the Colour Party. Again, their regimental marches are played as each Guard passes before the Queen with eyes right. However, this being a quick march, the officers do not salute with swords. Something which doesn't happen every year but only when the Scots or Irish Guards troop is the moving of the regimental pipers to the front of the massed band ready for the march past in quick time. This is something which the Queen decreed should happen when either of these two regiments troop their colours. If there are pipers present when another regiment troops then the pipers remain at the rear of the massed band. As with the slow march past, neutral marches start and conclude this section. (In 2007, these were "Coldstream Guards March" [arr Jones] and "The Coldstream Colonel" [Scott].)
After the March Past the Massed Bands, led by the Corps of Drums, march away - in 2007, to "Flag and Empire" (Turpin).
The Mounted Bands of the Household Cavalry, in their state dress uniform, take the field. It is the turn of the Mounted Troops to complete two circuits of Horse Guards Parade. For the horses, slow and quick time correspond to a walk march and a sitting trot, respectively. As with the Foot Guards, neutral marches bracket the regimental quick and slow marches, with salutes being given to the Queen and by her and the Royal Colonels to the colours they pass. The King's Troop, whose guns are acknowledged as their colours, lead the Household Cavalry (Life Guards and Blues and Royals), because the Royal Horse Artillery takes precedence over all other units when on parade with its guns.
"The Keel Row" is traditionally played for the sitting trot, and much dust is raised by the horses. Once the slow and quick circuits are completed, the National Anthem accompanies a final Royal Salute. Forming divisions once more (with, in 2007, "The Adjutant" played by the Corps of Drums), the Guards prepare to march off.
The Markers march off.
Each year when the Queen returns to Buckingham Palace, two detachments of the new Queen's Guard enter the forecourt, forming up opposite the old Queen's Guard. Standing with the Duke of Edinburgh on a Saluting Base in the central gateway she receives the salute as the remainder of the Guards and then the mounted troops file past to their regimental marches, played by the Massed and Mounted Bands respectively. This spectacle is appreciated by crowds in front of the Palace and by the Royal Family from the balcony.
The Queen is then driven in the phaeton carriage into the palace, passing between the Old and New Queen's Guards. The usual daily ceremony of Changing of the Guard continues on the forecourt.
Finally The Queen appears together with the Royal Family on Buckingham Palace balcony for a flypast.
Since 1993, the 2nd Battalions of the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards and Scots Guards have been in "suspended animation" - they are represented in the parade by the three incremental companies. It is a great honour for a young officer to be selected to carry the colour in this ceremony, as historically only the most courageous Ensigns were assigned to carry the regiment's colours in battle. Nowadays the honour is normally given to Second Lieutenants who are good at drill and ceremonial and are physically fit. In 2007, Second Lieutenant F J C Mills was the Ensign.
The number of military personnel who participate in the Trooping the Colour ceremony in London has declined over the years due to defence budget cuts in Household Division battalions as well as the battalions' commitments to military and peacekeeping operations overseas. For example, the Welsh Guards, who trooped their colour in 2006, and will do so again in June 2008, had returned from Iraq and are scheduled to redeploy to Bosnia later in 2006. This gives some of the units little time to practice ceremonial functions. However, the format of the ceremony has remained the same over the centuries following routines of old battle formations used in the era of musket warfare. Definition List Guards nos 1-6: 6 Guards of the Foot Guards are lined up in L-shape along two sides of Horse Guards Parade. Each "Guard" consists of around 70 non-commissioned Officers and Guardsmen, and 3 Officers (Captain, Subaltern, Ensign). Escort For The Colour: denotes no. 1 Guard, whose Colour is being trooped. Later in the ceremony, they become Escort TO the Colour. Colour Party: the Colour Sergeant and two other Guardsmen of no. 1 Guard who are holding the Colour at the start of the ceremony. Sovereign's Escort: the Household Cavalry who escort the Queen to Horse Guards Parade. Saluting Base: where the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh stand to take the salute. Neutral March: march music which is not associated with any particular regiment. It is used at the beginning and end of each March Past in the ceremony. Regimental March: each regiment has its own signature Quick and Slow March. Foot Guards: the five Foot Guards Regiments, in order of seniority, are: Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish, Welsh. Massed Bands: all five Foot Guards regimental bands, corps of drums and occasionally pipes and drums Corps of Drums: in the UK, denotes a military band of fifes, drums and sometimes also bugles. Household Cavalry: Life Guards and Blues and Royals. Mounted Bands of the Household Cavalry: the combined musicians of the two Household Cavalry regiments, mounted on horses, wearing state dress, and led by two drumhorses. Royal Salute: includes the playing of the National Anthem, "God Save the Queen". Spinwheel: a complicated manoeuvre by the Massed Bands to turn 90°.
2008: 1st Battalion, Welsh Guards.
2007: No. 7 Company, Coldstream Guards The Irish Guards did not appear in this Trooping. In addition, the 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards was originally scheduled to troop their Colour but an operational deployment prevented this.
2006: 1st Battalion, Welsh Guards. The Irish Guards did not appear in this Trooping.
2005: 1st Battalion, Irish Guards. The Welsh Guards did not appear in this Trooping.
2004: 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards
2003: 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards
2002: 1st Battalion, Scots Guards. The Welsh Guards and Irish Guards did not appear in this Trooping.
2001: Nijmegan Company, Grenadier Guards
2000: No. 7 Company, Coldstream Guards
1999: 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards
1998: 1st Battalion, Welsh Guards
1997: F Company, Scots Guards. The Welsh Guards did not appear in this Trooping.
1996: 1st Battalion, Irish Guards
1995: 1st Battalion, Scots Guards
1994: Nijmegan Company, Grenadier Guards
1993: 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards
1992: 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards
1991: 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards
1990: 1st Battalion, Welsh Guards